Friday, 8 March 2013

An interview with Teri Schultz

Vibrant and inspirational, Teri Schultz is the perfect ambassador of empowerment for women. A journalist from birth, as she introduces herself, Teri is a fantastic confluence of talent, values and a passion for her work and activism. This International Women’s Day, Delta Women is over the moon as it presents to you its exclusive interview with Teri Schultz.

Teri Schultz

1. Your introduction reads "Journalist from Birth". What does that signify?
To be perfectly accurate, I did want to be a veterinarian when I was very young because of my love of animals, but I felt sick every time I saw blood so gave that up. I started writing for my middle-school newspaper at about age 12 and I was hooked. Thirty-something years later, I still am! Both personally and professionally, I have always been insatiably curious, unbearably restless and determined to improve the world with whatever means I have. Few other careers could consistently accommodate those characteristics.

 One of those scenes that just makes your heart hurt.  This woman in Kabul is sitting in the snow begging.

2. Could you take me through some of the major milestones you have encountered in your work spectrum?
Honestly, I can’t emphasize enough how important it was to be inspired at a very young age, which drives me to encourage young people to follow their bliss, no matter where they are and what they have to work with. I’m from a very small place in rural New Mexico; I have no rich or influential relatives in the business world who were going to open doors for me (or if I do, they haven’t introduced themselves).  But there's no replacement for having a mother who leads by example -- mine has a Ph.D., travels non-stop and still makes time to take her grandchildren camping.  I appreciate her more all the time. 
My ladder up and out academically was in the form of my seventh-grade English teacher Tess Greenup, who started a newspaper in our class, recognized some aptitude and gave me a lot of responsibility and then mentored me all the way through New Mexico State University, where I also had very supportive faculty who have remained friends and advisors since then. 
Despite being from the middle of nowhere with zero worldly experience or connections, I dreamed of being a foreign correspondent, so thanks to my small-town confidence (more like ignorance of just how impossible a task it surely was), I sent off radio and TV tapes to stations all over Europe. The Finnish Broadcasting Company was so shocked to hear from a random American who wanted to be a reporter that they hired me. I moved to Helsinki a year after graduating university and started traveling to the then-Soviet Union, then freelancing for CNN, which was just branching out at that stage. I spent almost eight years running around Europe, following stories wherever they led and getting my master’s degree at the University of Helsinki to make up for the history and geography gaps in my education. Because of this experience, when I was ready to move back to the
U.S. at age 30, I had a pretty unique CV and found work in Washington, DC with Reuters TV and then FOX News Channel covering the State Department.
I had the extreme good fortune in that job to travel with Secretary of State Colin Powell for four years straight, experiencing the insanity of 9/11 and its aftermath in Washington, DC, spending long periods in the Middle East as he tried to bridge gaps between Israelis and Palestinians, visiting Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo, Kabul and countless other hotspots as part of a normal day’s work. Although working for FOX News Channel wasn’t a good fit for me, I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity.
Now I’m back in Europe, happily, as a freelance reporter in Brussels.  I go back and speak to students in my beloved New Mexico as often as possible and encourage young people here to simply presume they can accomplish what others might think is impossible.

The picture with Elsie and Ifrah and the Lord Mayor of Dublin was at a ceremony in June 2012 honoring Ifrah for helping push through a law in Ireland against female genital mutilation.  Without a job like this, I might never have met these ladies!

3. What inspires and motivates you?
I will feel guilty if I don’t mention a personal life; I really do have a bit of one! I was the stereotypical career woman who never EVER considered settling down and having a family. But I gradually softened up a little bit, marrying at 34 and having two boys at ages 38 and 42 with whom I am totally smitten. They are all the inspiration I need to be the best, most
responsible human I can be. I will be honest, though, my intense devotion to work makes time management and work/life balance a constant challenge.
But when I think of professional inspiration and motivation, it is based on how deeply I appreciate what I can only call a privilege to do what I do. I have the ability to ask questions not just of some of the world’s most powerful leaders, but also of young women in Kabul fearing for their lives as they go to school. I get to meet people like Ifrah Ahmed, a formerly illiterate Somali refugee in Ireland who is now the country’s leading campaigner against female genital mutilation. (Through her, I met Elsie!) (PHOTO) I have been invited into the cold bare abandoned buildings that stateless refugees in Brussels call “home” and listened to tales of their difficult lives; I go to lavish receptions in evening gowns. Seeing the extremes in the world brings with it the responsibility to share both with my listeners and readers who only experience those things through me. I do believe in the power of journalism as an instrument of truth, justice and the public good -- however cliche that sounds -- and that still drives my unflagging devotion to be a conscientious vehicle through which other people’s stories are told. I never feel like I’m doing enough.

In my third trip to Afghanistan, three months pregnant with my second son. NATO would not have let me go if they had known.  I actually don't blame them but didn't feel it was their business at that point.

4. What are some of the major challenges you have faced in your journey so far?
See above regarding time and balance. :) Seriously, I have NO challenges compared to so many of the people I see and write about, who have to fear for their lives or having food for their children or being physically threatened, or even compared to colleagues who selflessly choose very hard lifestyles in order to bring the rest of us the real stories from warfronts or famine fronts. I have had such an exciting, fulfilling work life that if nothing spectacular ever happens for me professionally again, I should be satisfied.
I have more to accomplish as a woman and a mother. Because reporting and being a news junkie can be not just time-consuming, but ALL-consuming, I have trouble switching gears even when I genuinely want to. Now freelancing in Brussels, I purposely have no au pair or in-home help (except cleaning) so that it automatically makes me adapt my schedule around the kids. If I didn’t do this, I genuinely would be fine writing all day with an hour off for the gym. I struggle with not being ashamed of that, while in a man it would be considered more normal. We’re not all wired to have domestic tendencies and I still feel pressured by society to have a “nesting” instinct when I really don’t.
On the other hand, as I drag my kids along to assignments and speeches, I remember some of the lessons I learned from having a mother who did the same thing.  While we didn't travel that much as a family with four kids, I can remember drawing signs and joining her in the picket line for teachers' rights and I still remember the fantastic dinners we had with the migrant workers she was helping with health care.  I shouldn't feel guilty my boys have had to hang out at the European Parliament.

The guard is the kind of person that makes you ashamed you can't do any more than tell his story...he guarded the U.S. embassy in Kabul daily for decades though the U.S. government had abandoned it (and him) in 1989.  I was there when Sec of State Colin Powell reopened the embassy in Jan 2002 and thanked this humble hero for his service. 

5. Do you believe that women are empowered sufficiently? Why?
I don’t think there is true equality anywhere yet but that question is a bit too broad for me to answer comfortably. In some places, we are slowly getting there with structural, legal and societal changes but there are such huge differences worldwide in social, economic and value systems. I spent so long in Scandinavia and have been several times on reporting tours in Afghanistan; there’s no way to compare those situations. In general, I would lament that even in the most egalitarian societies of northern Europe there’s a serious income and opportunity gap, for example, which is just ridiculous.  But as condemnable as that is, I hesitate to make a big deal out of something like that when you have rampant, unthinkable abuse in some parts of the world such as child marriage, the ever- increasing use of rape in warfare, the lack of female educational opportunities and health care, including family-planning options. Inequality and injustice weigh heavily on me, even when I
don’t quite know what I can do about them, and I think they should weigh much more heavily on all of us. Apathy when it comes to inequality of ANY kind is totally unacceptable to me! 

This was taken by an AP photographer who was intrigued by whatever I could be arguing about so intensely with the secretary.  It was about being pregnant! I had just returned back to work after a three-month leave of absence spent in the Russian Far East.  I had hidden my five-month pregancy before leaving so Powell was shocked to see my condition upon return and was giving me a lecture about it. I was just as adamant -- and living proof -- that pregnancy is not a disqualifying factor for almost anything!!           
6. What does "Being a Woman" mean to you?
Professionally, I don’t feel different because of my gender. I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have changed had I been male.  Hopefully I would have been just as fearless, haha! However, in my personal life, I have come to appreciate “being a woman” much more. Having mentioned how unambitiously I approached motherhood, I feel so lucky that it found me anyway. I am quite sure I would not have regretted a child-free life, but I am also grateful to have this extraordinary experience with these amazing little people. Though I was already almost painfully empathetic with people in difficult life circumstances before, I am even more so now. I think I have more to give -- and more need to do so -- now.

the picture of me l leaning back with my stomach out is taken at 8 momths pregnant after giving a seminar in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia,  I had forgotten just how tiring both teaching and supporting another life inside you can be!

7. What importance does Writing play in the world today? Do we have room for rhetorical activism any longer?           
As a consumer (and often interpreter!) of rhetorical activism, I think there’s more room for it than ever, with the internet available to allow anyone to become a “publisher” or a “broadcaster”. Of course, this also means there’s far too much irresponsible rhetoric and the public has a hard time distinguishing what’s true. That’s where journalists come in, but sometimes the facts look awfully dry next to embellished fiction! It’s a hazard of the electronic age, but one that’s not going away. Education is the best tool we have for combating ignorance of all kinds; enthusiasm for learning is one key to a happy life! 

Teri with her boys: Son Soren, age 7 and Son Kai, age 3 as she tries to get them to go into a conference where she was a guest speaker.  The Santa Fe World Affairs Forum kindly provided a babysitter for her.

By Kirthi Jayakumar

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